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That's right, I'm from Texas
Gadjo dilo (1997)
Gatlif does it again
I thought "Vengo" was the best movie about Gypsy people I ever saw. Until I saw "Gadjo Dilo".
At first, this film seems to be a story about a French guy (Stephane) who travels to Romania in search of an old Gypsy (the better term is Roma - not to be confused with Romanian) singer his dad used to like. Turns out this is a complex film about the life and culture of a group of Roma people who lived on the outskirts of a Romanian village, and their rocky relationship with the Romanians.
Being ignorant of the past history between the Roma and the Romanians and the prejudices that have stemmed from it, Stephane approaches the Roma people with his seemingly unassuming, trusting attitude, which eventually earns him their trust and affection.
I particularly loved Sabina's character, her sometimes outrageous irreverence and and her passionate nature. The scene where she cannot stand still and quiet while Stephane tries to record a singer in a pub says a lot.
The more Stephane learns about the people who allowed him to live in their midst, sees them as they are, listens to their music, watches their customs, the more bewitched he becomes. The scene at the end, when he burries the tapes with the music recordings, pours the liquor on top and dances around them the way he saw the Roma do it when they pay their respects at a deceased's grave, speaks volumes. He knows now that his recordings could not depict who these people were and what their music meant, plus, he had no need for any recordings anymore because he was no longer an outsider looking in. You can see it in Sabina's eyes, as she watches him, smiling, that she knew he now saw her and her people not just with his eyes, but his heart too, and his little dance was an homage to them.
Great? Not really...
It's pretty obvious that an enormous amount of work went into making this film (just considering how looooong it is and how many well made-up life stages its title character covers). However, Art is not judged by quantity, but by quality. To me, this film felt dull and pointless. OK, so Benjamin ages in reverse with all the complications such a phenomenon would generate, and travels a lot. So? What exactly is the film supposed to tell us besides this particular thing? There's a lot of attention to detail, but it feels so minutious that the film appears rigid and uptight, like a soft fabric stitched too tight. It seems to me this film was supposed to bee a bit deeper, maybe a bit whimsical with a touch of wonder, or SOMETHING that would make it more than a pointless story, and would get us ponder for a while afterward. Maybe if Mr. Fincher would have remembered this was not a "who done it" movie and it requires a softer touch and a more relaxed approach, and mostly, more freedom in its creation, the film would've had that airy quality that makes us smile with our hearts and truly remember it for a while.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Good, but could have been better (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)
I was very excited about seeing this film. I like Woody Allen's films (well, some more than others), and the trailer looked very promising. I am sad to say that by the time I reached the end of the movie I was a bit disappointed. The story was interesting - a nice touch of character study in the mix, the acting was great, the music, images, etc., were wonderful, but the narrator killed me. Why do we need a voice over to describe the characters' mentality, when we can figure them out by simply by listening to the dialogue and watching their actions, body language, etc.? I'm sure everyone could have figured out that Vicky prefers the rigidity of an organized and regulated existence while Christina wants to be a "free spirit", without any additional "book on tape" style explanations. Why did we need a voice over to tell us things like "Christina, Juan Antonio and Maria Elena decided to go on a bicycle trip in the country" when we can clearly see them on bikes on a country road? I suspect Allen was aiming for a whimsically ironic/sarcastic commentary to complement and lighten up the film into a comedy, but, if that's the case, I think the sarcasm was way too light, the comments were merely stating the obvious in boringly constructed phrases. In my opinion, the narrator was a very weak point in the film, it seemed to be there to make up for any shortcomings in the direction, just in case the film was unable to depict things in a truly cinematic and comedic manner.
I gave the film 8 stars because of the interesting story line and, most of all, for the acting. Had it not been for the terrific performances of Penelope Cruz (give that woman an Oscar, please) and Javier Bardem, and the refreshing presence of Scarlett Johansson and Rebcca Hall (loved her), I don't think this film would have done well at all.
Some people compared this film with Pedro Almodovar's. Ha. NO. WAY.
Not bad at all, for a sentimental story...
I can't say that Atonement swept me off my feet, but I do believe it managed to do something increasingly harder in a world with a less sentimental, or more cynical mentality: sell us a tragic love story without seeming too melodramatic or sappy.
I avoided going to see this film in the theater because I was convinced it will be a bit boring - I find sentimental melodrama for the sake of sentimentalism a bit passe, and I am not a big Keira Knightley fan. After seeing all the nominations and awards the movie got, I decided to give the DVD a try. Gotta say, this story of ill fated love (which is such common subject dontchathink?) could have resulted in a mediocre movie, had it nor been for the way the film was structured and directed, and the talent of Mr. McAvoy, Saorise Ronan and all others. Funny how talented filmmakers can turn even a common themed story into a great film.
Yeah... Ummm... OK.
I like Michael Moore. I liked him since I saw "Roger and Me", many years ago. I admire his compassion for the less fortunate and his tenacity in going after the big sharks and exposing the rotten parts (and people) in our country's system. What I don't like is feeling manipulated. Moore's intentions are the best, his points are always good, but the execution is not that great, mostly in this film. He takes too many things out of context or exaggerates them, and in the end he overshoots the whole thing. Which reduces the impact of the film for viewers on both sides of the issue, in my opinion.
For ex. the Havana hospital scene: a bit of a sham, in my opinion - maybe an involuntary one, but Moore should have gathered more facts before he decided to believe the fairy tale he and his companions lived in Havana. I grew up in a communist country. Had a group of American patients with cameras shown up at the best hospital in my country's capital city - like the one Moore went to - the best possible care (reserved only for the high rank Party officials and NEVER available to the general population) would have been given them, if only to keep appearances and show to the world, specifically the US, that the communist system "works".
This would have been a better documentary, with a stronger impact, had Moore relied more on statistics and scientific data, and less on emotional individual stories. Still, it's worth seeing - it has many eye-opening moments...
Blood Diamond (2006)
Hollywood's crocodile tears
They say the best way to make people care about an issue is not reporting it in the news, but, sadly, by making a movie about it, with big name stars. However, I found this film a bit too slick and entertaining for its apparent noble intentions. In the end, I couldn't figure if the purpose was to make a film about conflict diamonds in war torn African countries and the plight of the people caught in the middle, in order to raise awareness about the issue, or an entertaining action flick that happens to use the subject of conflict diamonds to seem original and pretend it has a higher standard.
The plot was good and the acting was too (mostly Di Caprio's, who was excellent as the white African rogue mercenary, accent and all, and he sure managed the physical presence necessary for his role - first time I perceived him as a man and not a boy), but the film felt very formulaic and preachy - some of Jennifer Connely's morally superior lines, however true, were mere stereotypes and delivered with such self-righteousness that they sounded downright arrogant.
The characters seemed developed by using "by the book" methods that almost destroyed the viewer's chance to bond with them and give a damn about them and their circumstances, had it not been for some really good acting moments. The film was riddled with obvious CGI imagery, mostly in the scenes of violent attacks, which took away from the sense of true drama - the film went for quantity instead of quality, IMO, by cheapening the dramatic artistry into mere dramatic kitsch and ruining the emotional charge of the scene. I think it would have been more effective to resort to less grandiose images of violence, brutal death and destruction, and opt for a smaller scale depiction, by using real acting instead of CGI.
I'd say the intention was good, maybe the director and the screenwriters had a better film in mind, but somewhere, possibly in the producers' offices, someone screwed up what could have been an important film and a good cinematic feature, by turning it into a half-baked schizoid mix between a complex socio-political statement and the typical money-making Hollywood feature. Apparently, Hollywood gives a damn as long as it means making a profit.
Casino Royale (2006)
Made a believer out of me
After seeing Daniel Craig in other films I figured he has enough talent to pull a very credible and cool Bond, but I didn't expect this type of film. So far, most of the Bond films focused on the superficial: outlandish plots and gadgets, and objectifying women (some border lining the misogynous), at the film's expense of having any character depth, or a meaningful story. OK, that isn't necessarily a problem, since none of the Bond the films ever claimed to be more than what they were, so if you didn't like the genre you knew to avoid it. Anyway, the 2006 "Casino Royale" seems to have turned around the fate of a character and a franchise that were on their way to becoming irrelevant due to increasingly anachronistic characters and outlandish story lines, and too many clichés. It's not just a reboot of the series, it's a total transfusion that completely revives the Bond concept of the series. It's smart, gritty, with a sharper and more profound main character than any other Bond film I've seen. In my opinion, this film, although not perfect, is the best Bond film made to date. It has what most Bond films seemed to lack: class, depth and a touch of subtlety, thanks to a less shallow screenplay, good direction, and Daniel Craig's skills to depict a very believable character, not just with talent, but a smoking physique too, and whoa! finally, a Bond actor fit enough to do a lot of his stunts, some of which are quite spectacular. For once we see a Bond film where the main male character is, among other things, the eye candy, and the main female character, although beautiful, charms us with class instead of mindlessly sexed up skin. In my opinion, Daniel Craig is the next Bond, maybe the best one yet, and his presence and involvement raised the level of the film. I hope we get to see him as 007 in many more films of this caliber.
This film did something no Bond film ever did so far: earned my respect for the character and the franchise. It's very entertaining, yet intelligent enough to make us feel it values the viewers' intellect and not just their pockets.
War Stories (2003)
When I saw this pilot episode of what was supposed to be a TV series, I was quite excited about it. The story was daring and original, considering the usual high-tech kitsch that usually air on broadcast TV ("24", "CSI" and the likes). This show felt different - in a way it felt real, like it had meat on its bones. It was more than just stories of people and the outlandish things that happen to them - it dealt with ideas and got one thinking. War Stories talked about the grittiest, truest and maybe noblest side of journalism: war correspondents. This was a show that seemed to chose story lines mirroring reality, even if that reality felt a bit uncomfortable to acknowledge. Finally, I thought, a series that tries to be more than pointless thrills and suspense. The series was even mentioned by Newsweek magazine for its originality and provocative subject. Unfortunately, by next week the show was cancelled. I guess, since the show was too daring, didn't fit a "format", and mostly considering the political climate and the attitude towards war at the time, someone threw their weight around, and instead of more episodes of War Stories we got more mind-numbing sitcoms, reality shows, and cheesy thrillers. Heaven forbid we see something controversial that expresses a different point of view, or gets us thinking. Still, I am hoping the producers haven't given up on this one yet...
Utomlyonnye solntsem (1994)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Colonel Serghei Petrovich Kotov is quite a likable guy: gregarious, kind, dignified, a war hero, an affectionate father, a devoted husband, he loves people, hard work, his family, his country. He believes he is participating to the building of a great new Russia, by actively supporting a new regime: communism. Like many of the original idealists who believed communism was the answer to a society plagued by severe income disparity, a large impoverished population, and a decaying aristocracy, he turned a blind eye when injustice and cruelty became the tools for building the great motherland, and people were abused and killed in the name of The People. In his blind credulity, he thinks he has achieved the position and power he holds through good, honest work, and he actually believes the patriotic slogans and mantras used by Stalin's regime to pummel the population into communist indoctrination. Since his life is good, he has no reason to think the regime is wrong.
Enter Dimitri, a self-loathing informer. His work gets other people killed, or destroys their lives. He does it to avoid death, life in a Siberian gulag, or some other horrible fate. What he does goes against everything he stands for, but, as we learn, he believed that by cooperating he would redeem himself in the eyes of the authorities (as an aristocrat he was automatically considered an enemy, guilty of existing) and would be allowed to go back to his life and the woman he loved. Once he realizes there is no way out, and that his sweetheart (Marusia) abandoned him by marrying Kotov, the man whom he holds responsible for his miserable fate, he loses hope. His psychological death complete, all he has left is to commit his physical one. Yet, there's one more thing keeping Dimitri alive: his quest for revenge. He wanted to show Marusia how wrong she was to give up on him, and to destroy Kotov and force him to face himself and the monstrous world he helped build. Dimitri's position as a highly regarded informer provided him with the chance of giving Kotov (a man who once was friends with Stalin himself and unaware that he was now quickly falling out of grace with the fickle leader) the final blow. Dimitri's quest for revenge allows him no scruples about what his actions would do to others, like little Nadya, or her mother Marusia whom he loved and who was only a victim of Kotov's deceit. In the end, Dimitri's suffering turned him from victim into monster: this time he doesn't do the job only because he has to, but because he wants to do it, and, in the process, he is willing to hurt innocent people.
Besides the artistic excellence of this film, what is amazing is its capability of presenting the multifaceted aspects of human nature, good and bad intertwined with all the gray areas, and how blind faith and deep suffering can destroy someone and ruin a world. Among many other things, this film is a great character study; it depicts two "could have been decent" men who became monsters, one blinded by his beliefs, the other tortured into it. They are both victims of the world they were a part of, both "burnt by the sun of the revolution".
As the conflict between Kotov, Dimitri and Marusia develops, we watch it intertwined with regular life - people working, loving, playing, believing in ethics, morals, truth, the future. I think this is a film that talks about how a totalitarian regime is built not only through lies, terror and coercion, but also by silence, half truths, compromise and complacency. It is a memento for any society, communist or otherwise.
There is a moment in the film, after Kotov is arrested by the NKVD, as a result of Dimitri's informing, when Kotov is convinced that once his detainers realize who he was they would release him with apologies, but he soon discovers how wrong he was. As he endures the humiliation and beating in the car, he slowly understands the reality of the world he helped building. He begins to weep, then sob, and one can almost see what goes through his mind: shock, regret, shame, despair.
My comments only scratch the surface of this piece of great cinema. It would take many pages to do this film justice. The screenplay, the acting, the incredible cinematography, the masterful directing of every frame, all crafted this film into a masterpiece.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Worth every minute
I saw this film in 2004, but after re-watching it the other day, I felt compelled to add my two-cents on IMDb, because it saddened me to see how many people bashed this film for not being what they expected from a Bill Murray performance. I blame the trailer for the misinformation - it makes the film seem like some crowd-pleaser comedy.
I say, kudos to Bill Murray for his performance in such a subtle film.
A friend asked me what this movie was about and, as I tried to tell her I realized how dull it might appear. This movie is very contemplative, it relies a lot on the spectator bonding with the characters and on creating a specific mood, things that take time to achieve. It was a good thing I saw it for the first time in the theatre, as opposed to DVD/VHS; some parts might tempt one to hit fast-forward. Don't. They are as essential as any other part in this movie; they create the mood and help the viewer relate to the characters on an emotional level; and all that makes the film so incredibly rewarding in the end. I would say that as the two characters develop their bond, so does the viewer's with them and ultimately with the film; in the end you might find yourself completely enamored with it.
I think this is a movie about many things: interpersonal communication, the feeling of alienation or the need to belong, the relativity of an individual's perceived value according to the circumstances. Had the characters met in LA, maybe none would have paid attention to the other, but their loneliness in Tokio, a culture so different from their own, brought them closer, made them enjoy each other's company as mere human contact, and value each other as people.
In my opinion, "Lost in Translation" analyzes the most precious type of relationship: simple human affection based on honest communication, no other instincts, biases or interests attached. The story is told in the most delicate, subtle way, the precious style of true cinema.